Matthew 6:3 and Honor for Good Works

Salvete, omnes!

In Matthew 6:3, we are told to not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing when we do good works.


Is it right to accept honors ifthey are given to use for doing good works? Is it even right to appreciate these honors? I am speaking of any kind of honor, religious or not, for doing anything good/noble/honorable/etc. If it is not right to seek glory for what one has done, is it not wrong even to appreciate it when it is given to one? Ifit is not right to appreciate it when it is given, should the one giving it be giving it at all?

Also, what of the saints? Does not the Church honor them for their character/good/heroic works?

Does not God even speak of honoring us for the good we do in giving us “crowns” (in the Apocalypse), though, ultimately, we lay them at His feet?

If it is all right to give/receive honor for good works, what is the difference in attitude between this and that which is described in Matthew 6:3?

Now, I, personally, have always seen the difference as one of pride vs. appreciation. In Matthew 6:3, it seems that the people who are in the wrong are those who would seek honor/recognition as the primary goal of their charity whereas those who would receive and even, to some degree, desire honor for their good works of whom I am speaking are those who appreciate being acknowledged for the good they do for others in an appreciating manner.

I have even been fine with people speaking of their good works, at least if it is in a spirit of joy in having been able to do them and not in a spirit only to desire self-aggrandizement. However, does Christ, in our passage in question, even prohibit this? Could ti be a near occasion of the sin of pride of which He speaks? As a classicist, in this instance, I might cite an instance where the Emperor Augustus wrote very directly that, under his reign, he transformed the beauty of the city of Rome. Now, if he did this in a spirit of “hey, look at me! look at me! I’m awesome!”, that might be something to be frowned upon, but, if it were done in a spirit of pride in his accomplishments in terms of what he did for his people, perhaps it would be permitted to make such statements about oneself?

Is this a proper way of understanding Matthew 6:3, or is this really a matter of semantics and is there really no distinction between either attitude? Should we, then, in all circumstances be as quiet as we can about our good works and seek not at all to be honored for them and even not to desire/appreciate/like honors when they come?

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” Matt 12

We’re never to seek glory and honor for ourselves from men. If the world wants to give it to us, that can be a good thing, for the purpose of publicly acknowledging and encouraging good deeds. It’s just not to be our motivation.

In the verse you cite, it says that they loved glory from men “more” than glory from God. It never outright says that ew should never desire honor (in an appreciative manner) from men.

Let us examine more closely why the world gives honors. Very often it is to show appreciation to a person fro the good work that he has done. If it were merely to honor the good work itself, we would not be giving awards/honor to particular individuals, but simply build monuments to good works themselves, or at least so it seems to me. We are showing appreciation that a person chose to do this or that good work and showing that we appreciate that in giving honor to it.

With this in mind, then, should we accept honors if given to us in the spirit in which they were given (the spirit which I have argued above)? Or, rather, should we reject honors given in this spirit and merely say that we are glad that the good work is being praised? If we do the latter, would it not be better outright to reject an honor and say directly that it is the good work and even God that should be praised, and not us at all? Or, rather, would it be better never to give or even receive/accept honors?

Earlier I asked the question whether acknowledging yourself that you’ve done a good work violates what Christ said about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing in Matthew 6:3.

Perhaps to clarify, it seems that, in this passage, we are given a rather particular instruction. Now, obviously, there is no way literally for us to not let the left hand know what the right is doing and, if we take very single word literally, even the phrase itself makes no sense. However, the instruction may be as specific as to say that we should never under any circumstances let people know of our good works, no matter what the motivation.

Now, why should we not, becomes the question. Is speaking about your good works, per se, no matter what the motivation, always inherently sinful? To me, as I argue above, it would seem that there are some instances where it would not, if the motivation is not one of “look-at-me” pride which does not focus on the deed itself primarily as motivation for having done it but on the doer. Yet, Jesus’ saying here tells us not to let the right hand know what the left is doing.

Perhaps He is speaking in a sort of parable here and not giving a particular, concrete, iron-clad way of getting rid of prideful conceit? In other words, He says not in a spirit of sinful pride to let the left hand know what the right is doing, but He may allow such in instances where the motivation is morally right. Am I perhaps palying too fast and loose with the text or do I maybe make a good point here?

Thoughts on this or on anything above?

I don’t think it matters. We can play along with the honoring-because its effect really is to uphold right values (the deeds just won’t get done without the people who perform them, after all). Or in humility we can reject it or at least make known our desire to minimize the attention given us. But our motivation for doing the good works must always be love, not desire for honor itself. The principle in the passage of Matt 12 that I cited pretty much precludes such a desire from stemming from wrong motivations. When our desire is to please God first of all, the ego simply doesn’t get the attention it otherwise covets.

Actually, I think we largely agree here. What I would say is that attention to self for good works should by no means be our primary motivator and, yes, indeed, our primary motivator should be love.

However, I’ve always thought that it is not sinful to desire appreciation for what we have done both from the person(s) to whom we have done it and from others because of the work’s goodness. Now, of course, a desire for that appreciation should not be our primary motivator because, after all, the appreciation that others might show is motivated ultimately by the goodness ofthe work and secondarily by the initiative of the one who performed it. (Gee, perhaps I should’ve put this on the “philosophy” forum as the discussion is rather turning more toward that angle with wuch questions of “what is really behind the giving of honor?” etc.! :slight_smile: )

Still I think it a tad insincere if we accept honors but not in the spirit in which they are given us. If we do so, especially without open comment/qualification, we are leading the one giving the honors to think that we are accepting them in the spirit in which they are giving them–a spirit, again, which I argue not to be sinful.

What I’m proposing is that there is a good way and a bad way as Christians to receive honors. The bad way is with a desire primarily to be acknowledged by men. The good way is in a spirit of appreciation for their appreciation of us and what we have done. In this way, we show humility but not false or insincere humility.

Again, I appreciate your and everyone else’s thoughts on all of this.

As I recall, St. Theresa of Calcutta accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, actually mortifying her natural self-deprecating inclinations, and used it as a platform for one of the most powerful appeals for the life of the preborn.

Interesting. So, perhaps she considered her tendency toward self-deprecation a bit of a weakness at times?

I mean, again, I think that, in cases like these, we can all too easily fall into “false” humility. What I mean by this is that we can sometimes truly put ourselves down too much, diminish our accomplishments too greatly. I mean, there is a way legitimately, I think, to accept honors with measured appreciation, and there is a wrong way to accept them, with a “hey! look at me! I’m awesome!” kind of attitude with little to no respect for the goodness of the act itself. There is, I think, also a “wrong” way NOT to accept honors, i.e., in too self-deprecating a way, a way that is beyond a reasonable diminishing of one’s own accomplishments. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this kind of “excessive humility” would be counted as “sin” per se, but I don’t always think it is justified.

Of course, we should always ultimately acknowledge God as the source ofwho we are; we should not fail to acknowledge Him, but we also have free will and, I don’t know, but, I don’t think He would be averse to us accepting with an appreciative attitude honors given to us by those with that same attitude.

I mean, let us take a look at the Apocalypse passage I mentioned earlier: God gives us crowns for what we have done (at least as far as I understand this to represent), and we lay them at His feet. Here, I think, our laying them at His feet does acknowledge Him as ultimate source of who we are, but, we must also note that He does indeed give us the crowns first. Now, I wouldn’t think that He would give us the crowns if this was in any way wrong to do. If acknowledging our free will and the goodness of our taking initiative in doing good, he likely wouldn’t’ve given us the crowns in the first place.

Also, I recall there is a passage in the Psalms(?) saying that our good works are as filthy rags. However, I have taken this as meaning man’s good works collectively in relation to all that God is in terms of righteousness/holiness/etc. I would argue that God appreciates and acknowledges our good works as stemming from our legitimate desire to do good.

Any thoughts on all this? Are my interpretations of the passages I’ve dealt with above legitimate (and Catholic) ones?

Indeed, has the Church taught in the past that it is all right to accept honors in the kind of spirit that I have spoken of above? Or, has it taught otherwise?

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